PurposeApproximately one half of the radiotherapy (RT) prescribed in the United States is delivered with palliative intent. The purpose of this study was to investigate the patterns of delivery of palliative RT across the United States.
MethodsUsing the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results-Medicare linked database, 51,610 patients were identified with incident stage IV breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer diagnosed between 2000 and 2007 and observed through 2009. Multivariate logistic regression determined predictors of palliative RT.
ResultsForty-one percent of the study population received palliative RT, including 53% of patients with lung cancer, followed by those with breast (42%), prostate (40%), and colorectal cancers (12%). Multivariate analysis revealed that older patients (P<.001) and those with higher Charlson comorbidity scores (P<.001) were less likely to receive palliative RT. Black patients with prostate cancer were 20% less likely (P<.001), and black patients with colorectal cancer were 28% less likely (P<.001), than white patients to receive palliative RT. Among those treated with RT, 23% of patients with lung cancer died within 2 weeks of completing treatment, followed by those with colorectal (12%), breast (11%), and prostate cancers (8%). In addition to tumor site, significant predictors (P<.05) of death within 2 weeks of receiving RT included increased age, increased comorbidity, and male sex.
ConclusionInequality in the receipt of palliative RT exists among the elderly and patients with comorbid conditions and varies with race. In addition, a significant number of patients die shortly after receiving RT. Understanding these patterns of care, along with further research into the underlying causes, will improve access and quality of palliative RT.